Click the video above to see Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class reviewed on a flight from London to Bangkok.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
Virgin Atlantic constantly punches above its weight, its raison d’être to be constantly taking snipes at its arch-rival British Airways and – recognising that it doesn’t have the critical Heathrow slots to compete on routes – to try to be just that little bit better in all other aspects than BA.
Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have a first class, and calls its business class service ‘Upper Class’, claiming it to be a cabin positioned between other carriers’ first and business class cabins. Is this a marketing step too far? We decided to fly Virgin Upper Class from Johannesburg to London’s Heathrow airport to find out.
Virgin Business Class Check-In Experience
Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class can’t be beaten – by any airline, in any cabin. From both Johannesburg and London it offer complimentary limo service with drive through check-in. In London, this is super stylish with your car being recognised automatically via its number plate, and as you pull up at the terminal a uniformed Virgin Atlantic staff member opens the door, greets you by name, and hands you your boarding pass as your luggage is taken out of the boot.
It’s not quite so stylish at Johannesburg as you get dropped off in a multi-storey car park, but the thought is there, and even this ‘lite’ service is miles ahead of anything anyone else offers. Airport restrictions prevent them offering this service at most of their destinations, which is a real shame.
Having picked up our boarding passes we went through a long security line before being directed to the 3rd party ‘SLOW’ lounge. We weren’t excited about this as third party lounges are typically rubbish – but wow, we should have been more open minded. This was a great lounge, with plenty of fresh and healthy food available, along with a great selection of local wines and plenty of space to chill out. After a quick drink it was time to board our Airbus for long overnight flight to London.
Onboard Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Cabin
Virgin Atlantic do know how to use the wow factor – purple mood lighting and smart design touches meant first impressions were great, as we saw the 1-1-1 cabin.
The seats are pretty great – everyone has direct aisle access, your footstool doubles up as a seat if you want someone to join you for dinner, there’s no holes that your feet have to fit in, and the good sized TV screen folds away when you want to sleep. This ticks virtually all the boxes.
There’s a couple of downsides – as you’re facing the middle of the plane, you have to turn your head right round to look out the window. Not an issue for a flight like this that’s always in darkness, but for day flights you will miss out on some fabulous views.
You also need to stand up and flip your seat over when you want to sleep – it won’t recline back in to a bed (score one point to British Airways!). The cabin crew will do this for you – and install a mattress on this perfectly flat bed (there’s no bumps or gaps as it doesn’t need to be a seat) but it’s still a pain when you’re relaxed and ready to drift off.
The seats are not great if you’re travelling with kids – the high walls mean that you are totally cocooned. Great if you’re a solo traveller or just want to see your partner for dinner of course!
Before take-off, champagne was served in some fantastically stylish 1960s glasses – totally impractical (and of course can’t be used in the air as your drink would spill at the merest hint of turbulence) but a bit of harmless fun that brings a smile to your face – this is the Virgin ethos delivered before you’re even in the air. They have practical ideas too – a friendly Virgin Atlantic crew member comes round with a pad to take drinks orders so when we do take off they can get the drinks to passengers quickly. They also hand out complimentary pyjamas – a nice touch.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Food & Drink
A few minutes after our plane leaves the Johannesburg tarmac behind, our order of champagne is delivered with some crisps to nibble on whilst we peruse the menu. There’s not a huge amount of choice – 3 mains – but the food is cooked well.
There’s soup as a starter – which reheats great on a plane – then there’s a basic beef main course. Virgin have used their brains and designed the meals so that each component can be cooked separately – so the vegetables aren’t cooked for as long as the beef. They also use the ovens to heat up a dessert option once the main courses have been served. None of these ideas are rocket science, but Virgin’s competitors typically don’t do them – or if they do, restrict it to first class passengers.
The service feels classier than its rivals too – there’s a tablecloth, salt & pepper shakers, a bread plate and hot bread. Everything is served by hand – no trollies in sight – and you’re allowed both dessert and cheese (unlike on British Airways).
After dinner, it’s time to change in to the pyjamas (sorry, branded ‘sleep suit’!) whilst the crew make the bed and provide a giant and comfortable pillow. Breakfast is ordered before you go to sleep, allowing passengers to maximise their sleeping time.
Best Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Seats
All the seats have aisle access, but you should pick carefully. You don’t want to sit too close to the in-flight bar, and you should pick seats on the side of the plane that face the back of the middle seats. Sitting on the other side means that you spend the flight staring at someone’s legs rather than a plain wall.
Virgin Atlantic Conclusions
For historical reasons, Virgin Atlantic can’t compete with British Airways’ extensive route network and choice of flight times. Lack of Heathrow slots holds the airline back in offering the most frequent service, and further limits the appeal of its frequent flier programme. Knowing this, Virgin have gone all-out with their service instead.
Their check-in experience, complimentary limos, onboard bar, great food and scores of little touches all add up to a service that can be described as taking British Airways’ business class and adding 10% to everything.
Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class is not a first class experience in the main, but it is a world class business class experience. All things being equal, you should pick BA’s first class ahead of this, but choose Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class over British Airways’ Club World.
Want A BA First Class Review?
For a review of British Airways First Class on the A380, click here.
Want to see a BA 747 business class review?
For a review of British Airways 747 business class cabin, click here.